Pray to the Moon when She is round,
Luck with you will then abound,
What you seek for shall be found
On the sea or solid ground.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Wandering: Among the Ancients (With a lesson in one-at-a-time.)

Fiddleheads unfurling toward the Sun.
Fiddleheads unfurling toward the Sun. 

This one is for the files.

Our mycophile clan has been slowly working on establishing relationships with other members of the boreal forest -- the plant life in particular (probably in part because they don't run away when you approach them!) In mid May, we spent a day with our eyes to the Ancients. It was a relatively warm Sproing afternoon in the Alaskan boreal forest, slanted sunlight dappling trees, soil & the emerging leafy ground cover. We were in search of three plants in particular, ancient plants, food plants


Horsetail, Equisetum spp.

I once described them thusly: "...ancient, self-possessed, horsetails of the Paleozoic..." I would say that this characterization stands justified, particularly the self-possessed part. There is something imperturbable & untroubled about them. They can mingle with the roadside weeds & invasive plants of disturbed sites just as easily as they thrive among the native plants of the forest floor.

Horsetail, Equisetum, spp.
Horsetail, Equisetum, spp. 
The window for collecting horsetails as a food plant is small. Only while they are spring budding shoots with branches pointing skyward are they viable for consumption. At this time they can also be gathered for tea. But once they begin to develop oxalate crystals on their outer surfaces they are only safe for external uses such as hair tonic. I like gazing down onto their sunburst-like branch-pattern. It is a bit hypnotic & I find myself wondering what there is to discover at the end of their tiny green ladders.


Fiddleheads, nonspecific (or, more specifically [honestly], I haven't keyed them out yet)

Cretaceous, perhaps even Devonian critters. Just what have they witnessed over the millennia? 

Fiddlehead fern. Like the nautilus & Time itself, a sacred spiral.
Fiddlehead fern.
Like the nautilus & Time itself, a sacred spiral.

I have always felt that ferns are a bit like cats. The youthful fiddle heads emerge lively, cheery & sociable while the mature fern plants grow more reserved, quiet & self-contained. Always soft & magickal are the ferns, but their approachability shifts with age. 


Devil's Club, Oplopanax horridus

"Make sure you take a deep breath of its intoxicating ginseng scent. Make friends with this plant as I have and you will delight in it rather than fearing it." -- Tom Heutte, from the USDA Forest Service website

Devil's Club leaf bud,  Oplopanax horridus
Devil's Club leaf bud,
Oplopanax horridus
Like so many things, this pervasive, rugged beauty is terribly misunderstood. While the Devil's Club (aka "Alaskan Ginseng," but it is not a ginseng) plants are indeed foreboding in their maturity, in early spring when their delicate green buds & shoots appear, they exude an unexpected vulnerability. And indeed, these plants are vulnerable -- to human impact. Taking the ground shoots from Devil's Club plants can seriously compromise their slow reproduction. Instead, we choose to focus on a small number of leaf buds instead. Taking a walk in a sea of Devil's Club is like traveling through time, pure magic

"Don't bite off more than you can chew."

A recurrent lesson in foraging, as in Life. That evening we made some sublime Devil's Club sauté, lightly cooked with some sweet onions. They have a gentle, surprisingly pine-like flavour. But the fiddleheads & the horsetail remained in their refrigerator containers for a long time, strangely never spoiling, but certainly losing their vibrance. Enthusiasm must remain checked. I have always maintained a policy of deeply learning only one or two fungi species a season & never harvesting more than we can clean & prepare within adequate time time. I see how this translates to the plant kingdom as well. This is a lifetime endeavour & there is no reward at the end of the quick road or the overly abundant harvest. 

Lesson (review) noted. 

Devil's Club, Oplopanax horridus leaf shoots sautéed with sweet onion.
Devil's Club, Oplopanax horridus leaf shoots sautéed with sweet onion.

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